First of all, it should be pointed out that this movie does not present a specific point of view in which one aspect is judged as bad and another as good, it rather raises questions and mysteries in an uplifting process of initiation, through the story of the main character. This initiation is about the process of spiritual evolution as seen through the frame work of the Tibetan doctrine.
This is a doctrine about the dual nature of reality under its 2 aspects: Nirvana (the peaceful void of spiritual enlightenment) and Samasara (the world of becoming, from one incarnation to another, full of suffering). By showing the play between these 2 aspects, the movie eventually leads us to experience that which cannot be explained – it takes us up to a superior and apparently paradoxical level of the reality – the mysterious Truth in which there is no duality, no Nirvana and Samsara, there is only the One.
The story begins with the main character – a Buddhist monk at the end of a 3 year retreat of meditation. He has achieved, due to his efforts, a high state of bliss, yet he has done so in the solitude of his cave, escaping the world and therefore has even lost the contact with this level of reality. Being taken back to the monastery he undergoes a gradual return back into the physical world of senses. Upon this return he finds himself irresistibly confronted with intense desires, to the point of interrupting his spiritual discipline.
This might seem to some as something weird – how can it be that someone who has reached a high state of Samadhi (spiritual bliss) could be shortly afterward subjected to such desires – however, this is not at all unusual. In fact – this is revealing an important principle in the spiritual evolution. Since this physical world we live in and the spiritual world are in fact one and they only appear to us as being separate because of our ignorance, on our path of spiritual evolution we must aim always to integrate them together – bringing our spiritual experiences to manifest and crystallize within the mundane world of our day to day lives. If this is not done, because for example an attitude of escapism like that of the main-character, then even the very wonderful spiritual experiences will remain for us only the domain of meditation, while in our daily lives we would be robbed of them, acting as though we had never experienced them. Thus, it is as though we become torn into two different beings. In this situation, the mind and ego which still control the mundane pat of our lives can ‘’assume’’ and ‘’steal’’ the spiritual experiences – claiming that they belong to them, thus developing a big ego which later can even take us away from the spiritual path. Indeed this is what happens to the character.
The hero, being overwhelmed with desire, decides to leave the monastery to pursue life in the world. Among his arguments are:
‘’Even He (the Buddha) was allowed a worldly existence until he was 29! But since the age of five I've been...disciplined to live like Buddha after He renounced the world. Why? How do we know that His Enlightenment...was not a direct result of His worldly existence, too?
There are things we must unlearn...in order to learn them. And there are things we must own...in order to renounce them.’’
This is indeed a relevant point. From a certain perspective, the power of desire (as of fear) is in direct proportion to the distance between oneself and the object of the desire - the greater the distance the greater the power. When one comes to experience directly the object, it eventually loses its magical power. In life this might often manifest as noticing after a while the disharmony and suffering that that object and the attachment to it create, thus letting it go. Yet this process can take a long time for some and very long for others. This process is fast in proportion to the level of awareness that one has over the experience. Therefore, for those who are not ready, such a detour could cost them entire existences of straying away from a chance of fast evolution, in order to resolve this issue of the desire to that one object.
From a certain perspective, as the movie says "Everything you contact is a place to practice the Way" which means that any way you take, will eventually teach you the lessons you need to learn. And indeed, the choices that the main character has taken lead him through a very different process of initiation then the one in the monastery, an initiation into the world of desire – leading him eventually to unexpected conclusions.
One of the special lessons that the movie shows about the world of desire is that desire is within us. Even though the main character leaves the monastery to satisfy his desire, and even though he indeed gets all that he wished for when he left the monastery – he still remains in a state of unsatisfied desire, wishing for more. His continuous apettite for more is attracting suffering into his life. Thus he has the chance to learn that desire resides within us, it does not reside in the object to which we associate it, and therefore, we cannot fulfill it by any exterior action or gain, nor can we run away from it. We cannot hope that it will change if we change place or situation in life. The only freedom from desire is an interior choice, an interior attitude – of sublimation (neither suppressing nor subjugating ourselves to it). As the movie says: ”What is more important: - Satisfying one thousand desires... or conquering just one.”
Another initiation is the power of Shakti (the feminine principle) to reveal the spiritual with in the mundane, and in the same time to hide it – depending on the attitude of the man in question. It is Shakti, manifesting through the woman which is making the link between the physical world and the spiritual world. The direction of this connection – ascendant or descendent – depends on the approach of the man towards the woman – an approach of love in contrast to an approach of lust.
In the ending of the movie, we are taken through both extremes - from the retreat in the cave to the life of the house-holder who is ignoring spirituality, from the choice to leave the monastery to the choice to run away from home, from hope to despair, being torn between two opposite options and being also disillusioned by both of them – leading us to a moment of void, a moment of openness, in which our mind silences and we are purified by the story of the main character, and we are left to contemplate the meaning of the whole show, of Samsara and Nirvana and what lies beyond, the mystery of the True Existence and of our own nature.
"How do you prevent a drop of water from drying up?
You throw it into the sea"
by Arthur Lederer